How to Prepare Your Furnace for Fall

One of the costliest home maintenance mistakes a homeowner can make is to neglect the furnace. Annual maintenance is vitally important, both for the life of the furnace and the lives of the people who enjoy its warmth.

Maintenance can be performed at any time, but there are benefits to being an early bird and getting the job done in late summer or early fall, before switching the thermostat to “heat” for the first time. And even if you’re the DIY type, there is a good case for outsourcing this job to a professional.

Why Should You Hire a Professional for Furnace Maintenance?

The average home heater isn’t an overly complex system, but there’s no substitute for having a trained eye pore over its parts. That’s because furnaces produce carbon monoxide, and when certain parts fall into a state of disrepair, that deadly gas can leak into your home.

A certified HVAC technician will also arrive armed with specialized equipment not found in the average toolbox, like pressure gauges, leak detectors and combustion analyzers that allow for extensive safety and efficiency inspections. And they’ll also be able to spot early signs of equipment failure -- things an amateur handyman could easily miss. Catching those problems early can save you money and help you avoid an untimely furnace breakdown.

Hiring a certified technician for maintenance may even be a condition of maintaining your furnace’s warranty. Check your warranty information to be sure, because there could even be restrictions on who you can hire.

When choosing an HVAC technician, make sure the professionals doing the work are licensed and insured in your state. Read online reviews to get a customer’s take. If you’re calling around in late summer, be sure to ask about scheduling availability (some technicians book up early) and seasonal discounts on furnace tune-up service.

Professional Furnace Maintenance Checklist

Not all HVAC technicians will perform annual furnace maintenance exactly the same way. If you want to know exactly what is and isn’t included with your furnace tune-up, ask the HVAC company prior to service.

Here’s a rundown of the services commonly included with fall furnace maintenance:

  • Checking the heat exchanger. Cracks or rust in this area are a common source of carbon monoxide leaks and must be repaired immediately.
  • Taking pressure readings of the entire system. Low pressure means there’s a leak somewhere, and it also means your system isn’t running efficiently.
  • Checking the flue. This is how carbon monoxide is safely removed from your home, so the flue must be clean and free of leaks.
  • Examining and testing blower components. Your fan and the belts that keep it turning may need replacement before the rest of your system.
  • Testing the burner. Even if the burner is operable, the shape and color of the flame can offer red flags for other potential problems.
  • Calibrating the thermostat. If your thermostat isn’t taking accurate readings, you could be paying too much or heating too little.
  • Checking all electrical connections.
  • Lubricating moving parts.
  • Cleaning the central system.
  • Replacing the furnace filter.

Some HVAC service companies conclude their annual service with a written report that includes test results and other data. If you stick with the same company year after year and save these reports, you can track your furnace’s performance over time. This is a good way to decide when to replace your furnace, as the average furnace lifespan is about 15 years, but well-maintained furnaces may remain efficient and functional for years more.

DIY Fall Furnace Maintenance Tips

Feeling left out? Just because you should leave your furnace tune-up to the pros doesn’t mean you can’t take part in your annual maintenance. After your technician leaves, there are still a few jobs to do:

  • Prepare for filter replacement. Unless you’re using a washable filter, it’s a good idea to buy your disposable filters a few at a time. Mark your calendar so you don’t forget to replace them every month, or whenever the replacement interval of your filters is up. Before you install a new filter, write the date on the cardboard frame so you can be certain about when you installed it.
  • Clean your vents. In even the cleanest homes, HVAC vents collect dust over time. Vents on the floor can be especially dirty because they collect crumbs, dirt and everything else that falls down into them. You can do a pretty good job of this with a vacuum hose attachment, but if you really want to deep clean, remove your vent covers and scrub them in warm, soapy water.
  • Make sure your furnace can breathe. Are your vents blowing warm air toward the center of the room? Are any of them blocked? Find every vent in each room and make sure the air has a clear path. If you have a couch sitting right on top of your floor vents, the room won’t heat efficiently.

Bringing in a professional technician may cost you a few bucks each year, but it’s far less expensive than replacing your entire system. Failure to perform this maintenance on a regular basis can shave years off the life of your heater. If your furnace is overdue, make an appointment without delay.

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